Vegas Golden Knights Struggling to Address Voids in Forward Corps – The Hockey Writers – Vegas Golden Knights

Victor Olofsson Sabres 4.jpg
Victor Olofsson Sabres 4.jpg

With six unrestricted free agents set to hit the market — including five forwards — and a need to adjust their goaltending situation, the Vegas Golden Knights were always going to struggle to cover all areas of need this offseason amidst a tight cap situation. After adding $1 million in cap commitments by replacing Logan Thompson with Ilya Samsonov as backup goalie, it became even more of a challenge.

Yet, Vegas’ offseason has seemed a little underwhelming. Yes, the goaltending has a little more depth, thanks to Samsonov and Akira Schmid. And yes, the depth of the organization’s blue line probably takes the sting out of losing Alec Martinez to the Chicago Blackhawks. Upfront, however, Jonathan Marchessault, Chandler Stephenson, William Carrier, Michael Amadio, and Anthony Mantha have all signed elsewhere. That’s 81 outgoing goals (88, if you count the seven from departed-forward Paul Cotter) from a season ago, with minimal help coming in.

The talent exodus might have subtracted a lot of offense, but it hasn’t had an equally-beneficial impact on the cap situation. Vegas is currently projected to be roughly $1.3 million under the new $88 million cap once goaltender Robin Lehner is moved back to long-term injured reserve. That leaves little wiggle room to fill the void, but the Golden Knights still have options.

Golden Knights Offseason Additions

Still, the club has been active in recent weeks. In the deal that sent Cotter to the New Jersey Devils, Vegas acquired Alexander Holtz, the seventh-overall pick of the 2020 Draft, who is two years younger than Cotter and recorded nine more goals last season. While the Devils valued Cotter’s physical edge, Holtz has superior scoring instincts and may even see some top-six time flanking Jack Eichel or Tomas Hertl.

Alexander Holtz New Jersey Devils
Alexander Holtz, one of the new faces of the Vegas Golden Knights (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Golden Knights also added Buffalo Sabres’ veteran forward Victor Olofsson on a one-year, $1.075 million contract. Like Samsonov and Schmid, Olofsson followed up a career-best 2022-23 campaign with a forgettable 2023-24. In that sense, the franchise is banking on a return to the form that saw the 28-year-old score 28 goals before fading back to just seven goals over 51 games this past season.

It may be hard for Vegas fans to get excited about Holtz and Olofsson in the face of so many significant departures, but the team’s front office did well to add two wingers who could be impactful and will make less than $2 million combined this season. There’s also Callahan Burke, an American Hockey League standout signed to provide some organizational depth.

Golden Knights’ Internal Options

The most cost-effective way to fill holes in the lineup? Promote from within. Perhaps with an eye towards the 2024-25 season, several Golden Knights forward prospects were given NHL opportunities a season ago, including Jonas Rondbjerg, Brendan Brisson, Mason Morelli, Sheldon Rempal and Grigori Denisenko. While Rempal has since departed for the Kontinental Hockey League, the other four should get another long look this season.

Unsurprisingly, the group of callups produced a mixed bag of results last season. The 22-year-old Brisson showed promising flashes in his first taste of NHL action, and journeyman 28-year-old Morelli made the most of his league debut with three goals in nine games. Meanwhile, Rondbjerg underwhelmed over a 20-game sample, and Denisenko failed to make an impression during a six-game cup of coffee. None of the four appear ready for a full-time NHL role.

That’s not to say there are no internal solutions. Pavel Dorofeyev signed a two-year, $3.67 million bridge deal after taking advantage of his biggest NHL opportunity to date. He notched 13 goals and 24 points in 47 games last season, and the 23-year-old looks like a possible top-six mainstay.

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Golden Knights’ External Options

The bad news is that the free-agent market has become something of a barren wasteland, with just about every key, notable name already signed to a contract. The good news is that the club probably isn’t looking for a key name, anyway. Assuming they begin the season with a top-six roughly consisting of Eichel, Hertl, Mark Stone, William Karlsson, Ivan Barbashev and possibly Dorofeyev or Holtz, the need is depth upfront more than front-line scoring.

If bottom-six depth is what Vegas goes searching for, there are options. One-time Golden Knight Nick Cousins is still available and could provide the same hard-nosed grit and physicality he offered the Stanley Cup champion Florida Panthers last season. Kailer Yamamoto struggled with the Seattle Kraken last season but is just 25 and showed he could be productive when surrounded by a strong supporting cast with the Edmonton Oilers. Meanwhile, a pair of former San Jose Sharks, Kevin Labanc and Alexander Barabanov, remain available and fit the trend of players seeking to bounce back after down campaigns.

Cap space is at a premium even after the losses incurred upfront, leaving enough room for just one low-salaried forward. Of course, trades are always possible. While losing Martinez cuts into the blue line depth, defensemen Ben Hutton, Kaedan Korczak and reclamation project signee Robert Hagg could make someone higher up in the lineup expendable. After all, we did spend much of the spring hearing Shea Theodore trade rumors.

To be clear, Vegas is likely only looking to round out their lineup (if they aren’t already done shopping). We are probably far too deep into the off-season to shake things up with a Theodore trade. Still, even with a roster that is now down a reigning 40-goal scorer and several key pieces, there is hope that internal development, a couple of new faces and perhaps another addition or two could help fill the void.

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